BMCR 2001.09.08

Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum

, , , Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum. France 1, Paris--Musée du Louvre, fasc. III, Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum, Italia 4, Orvieto--Museo Claudio Faina and Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum, Italia 5, Viterbo--Museo Archeologico Nazionale, respectively. Rome (all): "L'ERMA" di Bretschneider (all), 1997, 1998, and 1999 respectively. 190, figs. 112, 166, figs. 110, 206, figs. 156, respectively. Lit. 285.000, 300.000, and 300.000 respectively.

The Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum series (henceforth CSE) is an ambitious international project whose goal is to publish all extant Etruscan and Praenestine mirrors in collections throughout the world. In essence, the CSE is a revised and modernized version of Eduard Gerhard’s monumental corpus Etruskische Spiegel, published in four volumes (1840-1867) and a fifth (1897) completed after his death by A. Klügmann and G. Körte. Gerhard’s corpus reproduced drawings (i.e., engraved plates) of the images engraved on approximately a thousand ancient bronze mirrors; only in the last volume do we see a few photographic images of the mirrors. The major focus was on iconographical interpretation, with little attention paid to techniques of manufacture, and almost no recognition of unengraved mirrors. The CSE, although inspired by this laudable 19th-century achievement, documents the objects far more carefully: with photographs and drawings of both sides of each mirror reproduced to scale; with meticulous measurements and weights; with careful descriptions of the patina and analyses of the engraving techniques; with cross-sections of the discs (and sometimes the handles); with inclusion of fragmentary mirrors, handles, minimally engraved or blank mirrors, and even forgeries (complete or partial). Several fascicules also include chemical analyses of the bronzes. Of course, iconographical interpretations, proveniences, and dates are determined as well. Twenty-five CSE fascicules representing eleven countries have appeared since 1981, and more are on the way.

Denise Emmanuel-Rebuffat (henceforth E-R) has devoted most of her career to the study of Etruscan mirrors. Her dissertation, published as Le miroir étrusque d’après la collection du Cabinet des Médailles in 1973, established a standard by which mirrors were scrutinized in order to extract as much information as possible from them. The book under review is her third fascicule for the 124 Etruscan and Praenestine mirrors in the Louvre’s impressive collection. Fascicules I (Rome, 1988) and II (Rome, 1991) treated the 83 mirrors with handles cast in one piece with the disc ( manches massifs). Fascicule III treats the 28 tang mirrors, including four that are undecorated (nos. 25-28) and three forgeries (nos. 6, 15, 21). Some additional tang mirrors are not included here. A fourth fascicule will treat the box mirrors.

As with some previous CSE s, there is an introductory section on typology and terminology, as well as a list of abbreviations, glossaries, concordances and indices of proveniences. Especially useful is E-R’s table of specific mirror types treated in this fascicule and her proposed chronologies for them (p. 14).

Specific mirrors of interest include no. 2 with an unusual subject, “The Marriage of Herakles and Hebe.” E-R demonstrates convincingly that this is not a “Judgment of Paris,” with Herakles and Apollo replacing Paris and Hermes, as was thought by scholars from Gerhard (1845) on. Previous misunderstandings were caused by drawings with overly ambitious and inaccurate reconstructions, a perennial problem in mirror studies. This mirror also has an unusual animal-frieze border similar to that found in the Franc,ois Tomb at Vulci. What appears to be intentional damage to the mirror is not discussed as such (cf. R. De Puma, CSE USA 2, no. 44). A mirror from Tarquinia (no. 4) shows Odysseus and Circe. Of the three other replicas of this same subject, two are now published in other fascicules: R. Nicholls, CSE Great Britain 2, no. 11; L. Bonfante, CSE USA 3, no. 15. The other replica, from Castellina in Chianti, is lost but known from an early drawing. The mirror with Lynceus and Orpheus at a fountain (no. 5) can be traced back to Perugia in 1858. According to ε the engravings are based on the same model as those of the Ficoroni Cista where these two figures appear back to back. E-R interprets this scene as Orpheus prophesying and hence explains the strange incense burner that does not appear on the cista. I wonder if this engraving might be a 19th century addition to an ancient blank mirror, a reworked excerpt of the often-reproduced Ficoroni Cista. The inscriptions too seem odd. Does urphen appear elsewhere for urphe, the usual word for Orpheus in Etruscan? The famous mirror with Lycourgos threatening Pilonicus (no. 8) has often been discussed. E-R prefers to take the inscriptions at their face value rather than as mistakes for the characters in the popular Greek story of Telephos holding the child Orestes hostage (p. 38), and she is probably correct to do so. She cites my 1980 article on this subject 1 and a “lost” mirror and vase mentioned there. Happily, both of these parallels have since been found.2

One of the three forgeries (no. 15) is a poorly cast copy of the famous relief mirror with Herakles and Mlacuch in the British Museum.3 The recently published photographs of the London mirror demonstrate that even the specific configuration of corrosion products on the obverse appears on the Louvre copy! This replica, which must have been made before 1825, has an abnormally high zinc content. No. 21 is a pastiche consisting of an authentic Greek mirror from the 5th century B.C., modern (before 1825) engravings, an ancient decorative handle attachment mounted backwards, and a portion of a Roman balance added to the handle. Alloy analyses were done for all the mirrors but this Greek example. The 83 mirrors in the first two Louvre fascicules were analyzed too but those results will be published in a future CSE.

This is an excellent addition to the CSE series and, with its previous companions treating other Louvre mirrors, will be useful to all students of Etruscan art and culture. Two criticisms: although all inscriptions are transcribed and meticulously described, reproductions of them are not included in the text—as has been done throughout the series and even in the two previous fascicules by this author. Unfortunately, this omission means that one must constantly refer back to the complete drawings of the mirror to follow the descriptions in the text. Detail photographs are not mandated by the CSE series guidelines, but many previous fascicules have used them most effectively. There are none here and yet, because some of these mirrors are among the finest we have, details would have been an important and instructive addition to any of the Louvre fascicules. Finally, although excellent parallels are offered for the primary (mythological) subject of each mirror, subsidiary subjects in the exergues, decorative motifs and borders, and extension ornaments on the obverses are rarely given much attention. Sometimes a feature of obvious interest (such as the small size of no. 28 or the apparently intentional damage of no. 2) is described, but its implications ignored. This is strange because E-R has so long championed the close, some might say obsessive, analysis of such details.

Maria Stella Pacetti treats the 34 mirrors in the Museo Claudio Faina, Orvieto. This number includes two forgeries (nos. 32-33) and a mirror now lost (no. 34) but recorded in an 1897 drawing reproduced here. The mirrors in this museum were acquired by Count Mauro Faina between 1864 and 1868, and his successor Eugenio between 1869 and 1888. Although Count Mauro conducted some excavations in the Orvieto area, he seems to have acquired all of his 18 Etruscan mirrors through purchase, either from dealers or from other collectors. Furthermore, although he kept careful records of his expenditures for acquisition and restoration of antiquities, he rarely mentioned the names of dealers or proveniences. Thus, only one mirror (no. 2) has a provenience, Monterone near Perugia, but even this is not entirely reliable. Of course, we can infer likely proveniences for these objects because we know what sites were exploited and what collections were sold during these years.

At least seven of the fourteen mirrors acquired by Count Eugenio are likely to have come from excavations at the Crocefisso del Tufo necropolis at Orvieto, ca. 1888. However, even this is not absolutely certain. Once again, we realize how much valuable information is forever lost due to incomplete recording of basic data. On a more positive note, it is gratifying to know that these objects are now meticulously documented. Only three mirrors (nos. 7, 15, 34) had appeared in Gerhard and, although others were briefly mentioned or listed, this study is the first to present complete documentation for the entire collection.

Nine of the mirrors in this fascicule are engraved with images of the Dioscuri, and five show the typical winged, nude female often associated with the Etruscan Lasa. These two subjects are the most frequently engraved on late mirrors. Pacetti offers a valuable summary of the convoluted and contradictory scholarship on the Dioscuri mirrors under no. 4, and on the Lasa mirrors under no. 1. For English readers, note that Szilágyi’s 1994 article, cited on p. 20, has now been revised and translated.4 One of the Dioscuri mirrors (no. 24) is a miniature, perhaps originally associated with a child’s burial. The dates for these late mirrors, even when they have a secure archaeological context, are hotly debated. Pacetti prefers the 3rd century B.C. and, when pressed, often the first half of that century.

Three mirrors (nos. 6, 16, 28) are inscribed with the word suthina across the reflecting surface. Usually this is interpreted as “[This object is] for the tomb” and, of course, this ritual defacement negates the mirror’s utility for the living. A number of experts have associated this practice with Volsinii and its surroundings, but other centers (including Bolsena, Caere, Chiusi and Volterra) have been proposed. Pacetti offers a brief but useful exposition of the scholarship on this phenomenon under no. 6.

Two mirrors are considered forgeries. No. 32, an undecorated tang mirror, has a suspicious patina, but one wonders if this might be the result of 19th-century attempts to enhance or clean the mirror. Nothing about the mirror’s shape, size, weight or profile is wrong. No. 33, a tang with typical engraved volute ornaments on the obverse extension, has a bright patina and, to the author, appears too well preserved. She cites close parallels for the engraved ornaments on mirrors, all considered authentic, in other CSE fascicules. These are used to justify her suspicions concerning the Orvieto mirror. But we know that there are several “standardized” extension ornaments that appear on certain types of mirror; their similarity cannot be a valid reason for suspecting authenticity. An analysis of the bronze alloys of these two mirrors might answer the question.

Unfortunately, given “il precario stato di conservazione di molti specchi,” no chemical analyses of the bronze alloys were done for this collection. Five mirrors (nos. 9, 12, 20, 21, 27) are so corroded that their engravings are no longer visible. These were X-rayed and for two of them (nos. 12, 21) good results were obtained and useful drawings produced. However, “per motivi di ordine tecnico,” the X-rays are not reproduced here. These criticisms cannot be directed at the author. Rather, she is to be congratulated for providing excellent entries for each mirror and for joining the small group of CSE authors who also produce their own drawings.

The second Italian CSE reviewed here treats 42 mirrors in the new museum in Rocca Albornoz at Viterbo. Many of these mirrors are fragmentary and most were virtually unpublished until now. In the case of the fragments, no doubt the accurate and thorough documentation provided by the authors will help to locate joining or related elements in other collections. However, one wonders why three fragments of a bone handle, almost certainly belonging to no. 32, are briefly described (p. 40) but not illustrated. Unfortunately, no bronze samples were analyzed for these mirrors either, but Galeotti meticulously examined their engravings under a microscope. His descriptions are summarized for several of these mirrors, but readers will want to consult his extensive report published elsewhere.5

Once again, many of the mirrors have no precisely recorded provenience. About a third of the examples came to the museum through donation or were recovered from clandestine activities in the Viterbo area during the last thirty years. Those with precise archaeological contexts were excavated in the 1970s and 1980s at Blera (Necropoli delle Casacce), Ferento (Necropoli di Pian di Giorgio and di Procoietto), and Norchia. This makes the lack of chemical analyses especially regrettable. Let’s hope that eventually at least this group will be analyzed.

As with the previous Italian volumes of CSE, most of the engraved mirrors show Lasa (11 examples) and the Dioscuri (five examples).6 Among the most interesting is no. 11, a delicately engraved tang mirror with a nude male and nude winged figure of uncertain sex, possibly female, although Lasas can be of either sex. This example, dated to the 4th or 3rd century B.C. and perhaps the finest in the collection, was confiscated by the Viterbo Questura in 1966. It is a reminder that often the best material is being stolen. No. 22, a hand mirror assigned to the 3rd century, has inscribed images of Apollo and Thanr; this is the only inscribed mirror in the collection. Here the engravings are so inept, so crude that one is tempted to consider them modern. In fact, the mirror comes from a chamber tomb excavated at San Nicolao, Viterbo in 1969. The other mirror from this same context (no. 21) is a typical hand mirror with Dioscuri.

These three additions to the ongoing CSE series represent very different kinds of collections and problems. It has long been recognized that most mirrors in non-Italian museums will have uncertain proveniences and several might prove to be forgeries or pastiches. The Italian authors here have demonstrated that even the mirrors in Italian collections do not always have secure proveniences. Much of this can be blamed on shoddy or non-existent documentation, often associated with early archaeological practice. In fact, this poor record-keeping is not confined to the 18th and 19th centuries. This clearly indicates how critically essential is the prompt publication and chemical analysis of those mirrors with secure archaeological contexts. Most of these are in major Italian collections. These are the collections that should have the highest priority for immediate inclusion in the CSE series. We also see that Etruscan forgeries are everywhere. Many—perhaps even some already published as authentic in the CSE —will continue to go unrecognized. This is why it is important to give the forgeries or suspected forgeries careful consideration in the CSE series. All of these mirrors, whether authentic or fake, engraved or plain, complete or fragmentary, have something to tell us if we continue to examine them closely and ask lots of questions.


1. R. De Puma, “A Fourth Century Praenestine Mirror with Telephos and Orestes,” Römische Mitteilungen 87 (1980) 5-28. See also CSE USA 1, no. 14.

2. For the mirror, formerly in the Terrosi Collection, Florence, but now in a Bern private collection, see I. Jucker, “Der wiedergefundene Telephos” in E. Böhr and W. Martini, eds., Studien zur Mythologie und Vasenmalerei: Konrad Schauenburg zum 65. Geburtstag am 16. April 1986 (Mainz, 1986) 139-42, pl. 24. For the vase, see S. Woodford, “Tischbein and the Fragments of Vases recovered from HMS Colossus,” Source: Notes in the History of Art 20, 2 (Winter, 2001) 1-7, especially fig. 4.

3. Inv. GR 1772.3-4.74, the so-called Hamilton Mirror: J. Swaddling, CSE Great Britain 1, British Museum I (London 2001) no. 20. Both Swaddling and E-R offer new and provocative interpretations of the subject.

4. J. Szilágyi, “Discourse on Method: A Contribution to the Problem of Classifying Late Etruscan Mirrors,” Etruscan Studies 2 (1995) 35-52.

5. L. Galeotti, “Gli specchi incisi d’Etruria e del Latium Vetus. Gli strumenti dell’incisione,” Informazioni (Periodico del Centro di Catalogazione Beni Culturali Provincia di Viterbo) 11 (1994) 55-62. Other recent studies of engraving techniques are by G. Zimmer, Etruskische Spiegel: Technik und Stil der Zeichnungen (Berlin, 1995) and “Specchi etruschi. Considerazioni su tecnica e stile delle figure,” Studi Etruschi 62 (1996) 337-41.

6. For the Lasa, see now L. Ambrosini, Una coppia di specchi del gruppo ‘delle Lase’ con un nuovo tipo di raffigurazione,” Studi Etruschi 62 (1996) 63-94. For an invaluable critique of this article, see F. Serra Ridgway, “Etruscan Mirrors and Archaeological Context,” JRS 13 (2000) 415-16.